From the gearhead department, an easier push

Friday, December 14, 2012

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Only a mechanical engineering student would see people using wheelchairs on a large university campus and think to himself: Why don’t those wheelchairs have gears?

“I’m kind of a gearhead, so my first thought was, ‘Why not take advantage of mechanics to make it easier to get around,’” said Scott Daigle, founder and CEO of Champaign, Ill.-based IntelliWheels. “I spent some late nights with a lot of Ramen noodles and coffee, and I came up with a design that I thought would work for people.”

That design would become Easy Push, which Daigle, who graduated in 2011 from the University of Illinois with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, will roll out locally in January and nationally in March.

Simply put, Easy Push is a set of wheels that gives people using wheelchairs a 2:1 gear ratio—for every pound of force they put on the hand rims, they get two pounds of push from the wheels.

“It’s a force multiplier effect,” Daigle said. “It’s just like when you shift to a lower gear on a bike, it’s easier to peddle up a hill.”

Daigle plans to target the Medicare market for the Easy Push, which has been approved under HCPCS code E2227. That’s a bit of a departure from his initial goal.

“We were traveling across the country visiting different rehab hospitals and attending different trade shows, and we had two prototypes: one geared toward a more athletic user; and one catered toward a geriatric patient,” he said. “The one getting the most feedback was the second, the Easy Push.”

Provider Don Beard believes the Easy Push is just the ticket.

“It’s been a product we’ve been needing for some time,” said Beard, general manager at MedServ Equipment Corp. in nearby Palatine, Ill. “It’ll definitely make it easier for individuals who can’t push a regular wheelchair, especially the elderly, to get around and release stress on the upper extremities.”

Additionally, Beard likes the idea of using a product that looks good (the gearing is hidden in the wheel), installs easy (the wheels, which can be retrofitted to any wheelchair, take about 20 minutes to install) and is local.

“We have direct access if we need assistance or if we need demos,” he said. “That’s always a plus.”

After three years of designing the product, gathering feedback, tweaking the product and repeating that process, Daigle is ready to get the Easy Push in the hands of wheelchair users.

“We’ve gone through five or six of those cycles since 2009, so we’re happy,” he said.